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…You Might Be a Project Manager (With Apologies to Jeff Foxworthy)

  • If you think someone asking, “When can you have this done by?” requires a Microsoft Project Schedule and a consultation with your online calendar before you can even begin to respond, you might be a project manager.
  • If your child asks you for extra help with their homework, and your answer is, “I’m sorry, but Mommy doesn’t have enough resources to cover scope creep,” you might be a project manager.
  • If the only way you can outline your next novel or screenplay is by creating a Microsoft Visio diagram, you might be a project manager. (That would be me.)
  • If your next family get-together requires a meeting invitation with a PowerPoint presentation attached, you might be a project manager.
  • If you handle finding out which movie your friends want to go see Friday night by sending out Microsoft Outlook voting emails with the choices Approve or Reject and a firm deadline for responding, you might be a project manager.
  • If you know more about how to manage scope, schedule, budget and resources than the contractor renovating your house, you might be a project manager.
  • If you can successfully implement a five million dollar project, but find the prospect of balancing your meager checkbook intimidating, you might be a project manager.

But here’s the most important one, and all kidding aside:

  • If you have ever had to do something that required even a two-step plan to accomplish, you ARE a project manager.

No, really, I’m not joking with that. Trust me, I’ve been a so-called “professional Project Manager” for over eight years now, and even have a Masters Degree of Project Management. No, really, I do! Colorado Technical University’s where it’s from. It means I get to put the letters MPM behind my name if I want to try and make myself seem more important than I really am.

Hence why you never see those letters behind my name. So why’d I get the degree? I don’t know. It seemed like a good idea at the time (back in 2004/05).

I found it highly amusing last night when I was speaking with my publisher about the timeline for my next two novels (which will be “TAKERS II” and “TAKERS III”) and my next two feature-length screenplays, that I was automatically planning out the timeline in my head, including estimating how long tasks would take to complete, analyzing dependencies and constraints (my writing time vs. my two editors’ availability, desired release dates, etc.), determining whether any up-front costs would be required and the implementation plan for each of those deliverables.

There, I just used a whole bunch of project management buzz words. Now, let’s talk to each other like normal human beings.

At its simplest, project management is nothing more than trying to figure out how to do something with the best possible chance for success. I am probably pissing off a whole community of project managers because they tend to take themselves way too seriously as a whole, but I’m a no-nonsense sort of person, and here’s what my no-nonsense wants to tell you: it’s not rocket science.

I can prove it. Know how? I never cracked a textbook open during my Masters degree program, yet aced it, top o’ the heap. Why? Well, mostly because the principles of project management are intuitive for me, much like writing is. Do I know how to break apart a single sentence and identify precisely what word is which technical grammar term? Oh, dear Lord, no, nor do I ever care to, thanks much. Can I tell you what a noun is? Yeah, that I can do. Can I tell you the first thing about the origins of the word onomatopoeia or what that even means? Sure, if I look it up on Google.

What I can do well, is slap a whole bunch of words on a page that actually do stick together and sound fairly decent, most of the time. This reminds me of a quote from Hawaii Five-0 that makes me howl because it’s just priceless. I love the writers of that show. They crack me up. One of these days I have got to interview them.

This is from the Season 1, Episode 7 entitled “Ho’apono.” Starring Alex O’Loughlin as McGarrett and Scott Caan as Danno, for those who don’t know.

Danny “Danno” Williams: Okay… Let’s say I am you, and you are the bad guy here. I would know that all the ways onto the ship are visible somehow. So, how would you outsmart yourself and get yourself onto that ship without yourself seeing yourself?
Steve McGarrett: Okay, was that an actual question, or were you just throwing words together and hoping they made sense?

I’m with Steve on this one. As much as groups of people like to get together and try to make what they do for a living sound ever-so-important and ever-so-difficult and this-is-why-you-should-pay-me-the-big-bucks-because-I’m-smarter-than-you-are-with-my-jargon…well, that’s not me. I don’t throw words together just hoping they make sense (unlike Danny, apparently).

So when I say to you that you are probably just as much a project manager as I am, let me ask you some questions that will also serve as examples of how and why I think that’s the case.

  • Have you ever had to get a 2-year old up in the morning, and get Her Royal Highness bathed, fed, dressed and safely to day care all before the time you have to be at work?
    • I will bet you a McDonald’s large coffee that fathers and mothers familiar with the ‘joy’ that this process can bring are nodding vigorously over the difficulties inherent in such a daunting undertaking. And they do it daily.
  • Have you ever had to take a trip somewhere by car, boat/ship, airplane, helicopter or any other means?
    • Where are you going? What’s the best method of transportation? How do you secure that transportation? Do you have to borrow or rent a car? Buy an airline ticket? Book passage on freighter? Wait, you have to book passage on a freighter? Call me next time, that sounds like fun.
    • Do you need to pack clothes? Toiletries? Food? Something to drink? Is anyone coming with you? What do they need to have brought with them? Do you need a book or two? Your Kindle? A magazine? Your laptop? Your iPad? iPhone? Blackberry? Android? (No, not Lt. Commander Data, ST:TNG fans.)
  • Have you ever written a story, book, script, screenplay, poem?
    • What’s your subject matter? What genre are you writing in? Who are your characters? What are their personalities? What is your story about? What do you want to happen? Where is it set? If it’s a poem, is it going to rhyme?
    • Indie filmmakers are kick-ass project managers, by the way. Especially if it’s a movie they wrote, they are producing, they are directing and, sometimes, they are even starring in. I cannot imagine what it takes to pull something like that off, and yet so many people do!

Let’s get back to something no quite so entertainment industry-related.

  • Have you got more than one child, and they all have to be at different fields on Saturday at the same time for different sports games/practices?
    • In this case, I would seriously consider looking into getting you and your family vehicle cloned.
  • Do you have two essays to complete, a mid-term to study for, five chapters in a textbook to get through and a documentary you have to watch all by Monday morning…and it’s Friday night?
    • Students everywhere, don’t despair…college isn’t nearly as hard as real life. Enjoy the pretend stress as much as you can before you get to the real stuff!

I could go on forever with examples, but I won’t because you’re probably already bored. Suffice it to say that while I will tell folks yes, I am a project manager, and yes, I have been a project manager for several years and have those silly letters that I can stick after my name to boot, the fact is that we are all project managers.

Just like we are all writers.

These days the term ‘writing’ is used much more loosely in that we’re technically ‘typing’ more often than we are actually sitting down with pen or pencil and writing. I get a cramp in my hand penning a single sentence fifteen times, so no, longhand and notebooks and I don’t get along too well.

But just like we can all manage projects on some level, so, too, can we all write on some level. Ever written a note in a Christmas card? Ever typed an email to a friend? Ever posted something to LiveJournal or Facebook? Ever left a comment on someone’s blog? (hint, hint)

Then you’re a writer.

Are you a novelist? Well, I don’t know, have you ever written a novel?

Are you a screenwriter? Not unless you’ve actually sat down and written a screenplay of some sort, whether good or bad.

Are you a poet? (Roses are red, violets are blue, this doesn’t count, but it’s writing, too.)

My point is that while I’ll happily sit here and give myself all sorts of names and titles like project manager, journalist, screenwriter and novelist, the fact is that I’m stuffing myself into predefined definitions because it’s the only way I can get taken seriously in any of those professions.

I’m not a snob because I’ve got a book published. I’m still just me. I will never become pretentious or unavailable to listen to what people who spend their precious time paying attention to anything I say or do want to tell me, good or bad. I may be busy as hell sometimes, and so it might take me a while to respond.

But no matter how busy I get, I will never forget that I’m just a normal Jane/Joe like the majority of the rest of the world’s human beings, and that I am a one-time cubicle dweller myself who’s had to work for Corporate America (and Corporate Canada, while we’re at it), too.

(Why do you think I want to make writing my full-time job??? Hello.)

I’ll leave you with one final thought:

If you think that because your job gives you the ability to:

  • tell other people where to go;
  • how to get there;
  • what to do when they get there, and
  • crack the whip when they don’t do what you told them to, then

you might be a project manager.

But consider this: while the fact is that the job description I just gave is definitely for a project manager, it’s also exactly the same for a mother, father or a BDSM dominatrix.

If you’re wondering how many risks I might be taking treating such serious subject matters with this much irreverence, then you’re either a project manager or you’ve been in the business too long, my friend.

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    The book series "Takers," the screenplays contained on the "Screenplays" page and the screenplays discussed and contained on this website are copyright Chris Davis. Novels are published by Plotfish Press, and screenplays are registered with the Writers Guild of America (WGA) West.
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